Reminder: Nonprofit staffers are people, too - Generocity Philly


Mar. 19, 2018 12:47 pm

Reminder: Nonprofit staffers are people, too

Donors, be patient when interacting with small, volunteer-run orgs, writes Red Paw Emergency Relief Team founder Jen Leary.

A Red Paw volunteer holding a pet carrier.

(Photo via

This is a guest post by Red Paw Emergency Relief Team founder Jen Leary.
A couple of weeks ago, I posted my version of a Twitter rant.

It was spurred by what I’d like to believe are just good-natured folks not knowing any better. The catalyst was that I had received a direct message on the Facebook page of the disaster relief nonprofit I run, Red Paw Emergency Relief Team, earlier in the day from someone who was upset that she hadn’t received a response to her email, which she sent less than 48 hours earlier.

However, what made me act was when our COO shared that she had received a very angry email and phone call on her personal phone from another (first-time) donor who was extremely upset at us (and PayPal) because she had not gotten a thank you letter for her donation, which she had made LESS THAN ONE HOUR EARLIER.

Let me say that again: Less. Than. One. Hour. Earlier.

Please note that this was also a Sunday evening. Could it have been maybe our COO was out food shopping and hadn’t seen the donation come in yet? Maybe she was working on a grant and didn’t have time to check her email, or — I don’t know — maybe she was handling the zillion other things that need to be handled in a day when you run a nonprofit organization that is literally open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

This kind of stuff happens all of the time, and I mean all of the time. These crazy expectations from arm chair quarterbacks via email, through Facebook, and messages on our emergency line — yes, on our emergency line!

What I think people forget is that nonprofits are run by people.

What I think people forget is that nonprofits are run by people. People who have to do laundry, people who have to walk their dogs, people who have to go to doctor’s appointments, or who have family obligations, or maybe have to go to work, just like everyone else does. But, these people have to do it while running a business that does not bring in any income. And most of these people also do it for free as volunteers.

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So how about cutting them a little slack?

Now, I will happily take some of the blame in all of this; because of my mad social media and marketing skills, I don’t think people truly understand just how grassroots our organization really is. They must think we have an office somewhere with dozens of people sitting around at desks all day answering phones, typing away at computers and supervising staff members.

Yeah, not so much.

What is happening is that we are answering emails from our phones while in line at the grocery store, we are calling people back while at doctor’s appointments, responding to DMs while eating dinner, scheduling conference calls at 6 in the morning and 7 at night before and after work, and writing guest essays when they should be studying for a test!

My point is, there are only so many hours in a day, and for people who run nonprofits it’s a constant juggle of priorities. So, if it’s a choice between responding to a fire or responding to an email, I’m going to respond to a fire every single time. Because that is our mission, the one that is funded by donors like you.

So, with that, I’d like to make a few comments and suggestions for people thinking of donating to small, locally based nonprofits:

1. They are small, which probably means little to no staff.

2. They use every cent of your donation to fulfill their mission, so they may not have a fancy donor database or the ability to send you a thank you letter within an hour or even 48 hours of your donation.

3. The person managing the donations is probably also doing six other jobs for the organization.

4. If said organization is up to speed on social media and you really follow their feeds, then you can get a sense of why #2 might not be possible.

5. Said organization absolutely appreciates and desperately needs your donation but does not have the resources to personally email, call, DM, etc. every single person who donates $20. But they do really appreciate it and they do really try.

6. Most organizations, especially small ones have zero control over the fees and/or websites of the third-party sites like PayPal or Amazon or Facebook, so please don’t complain to them about it. Also, please realize they probably did their homework and decided to use those sites for donations because they have the lowest fees/incentives for nonprofit organizations.

7. Managing a nonprofits’ donations, if done correctly, ethically and morally responsibly, is a very stressful and time-consuming job. And the person doing this job does not take it lightly.

8. Please do your research before you donate to any organization big or small. Almost all nonprofits are on social media; so should their founders and staff. Transparency is key. Know where your money is going, who is handling it and how much goes to operations vs. mission and then proceed appropriately.

9. Please be patient. Small nonprofit staffs need to manage day-to-day operations while running the organization and keeping it compliant, while probably also working a “real” job to survive and, oh yeah, actually living their lives.

To follow Red Paw on social media and see where your donations go:


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